Brown vs. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision overturning “separate but equal” as unconstitutional, stating that segregation in public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment.
Four years earlier, members of the Topeka, Kansas, Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine governing public education through a class action suit when they were denied the opportunity to enroll their children in the white-only schools.
When the Topeka case made its way to the United States Supreme Court it was combined with other NAACP cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. The combined cases became known as Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. The Board of Education of Topeka (KS).
You can see the original Complaint against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Court Order, and correspondences between President Eisenhower about Brown vs. Board of Education from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Papers as President here.
Pictured: Supreme Court Opinion of Brown vs. Board of Education, pages 1-3. 5/31/55.
-from the Eisenhower Library
May 17th 1954: Brown v. Board of Education decision
On this day in 1954, the US Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The decision declared segregation on grounds of race in schools unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson which allowed segregation under the doctrine ‘separate but equal’. The case had been bought by African-American parents, including Oliver L. Brown, against Topeka’s educational segregation. It was argued before the Court by the chief legal counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court justice in 1967. The Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, declared that segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision is considered the start of the Civil Rights Movement which led to racial integration and full legal rights for African-Americans.
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”
- Warren’s opinion for the Court
Mr. Civil Rights
Thurgood Marshall convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
As legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Marshall represented civil rights plaintiffs all over the south and argued more than 30 such cases before the Supreme Court. He won all but five and earned the nickname, Mr. Civil Rights.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named him to the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Second District. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Marshall U.S. Solicitor General, the third highest post in the Department of Justice.
Two years later, on June 13, 1967, LBJ nominated Marshall to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court where he served for 24 years.
Thurgood Marshall’s nomination by LBJ made him the first African American Supreme Court Justice, but it also followed a long and distinguished career as a civil rights lawyer who successfully fought inequality and discrimination.
Pictured here are Marshall and LBJ outside of the White House. 7/9/65
-from the LBJ Library
Brown v. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren delivered a unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Court stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and that school segregation was unconstitutional, violating the equal protection guarantee of the 14th amendment.
This 1954 civil rights victory, argued by Thurgood Marshall, overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision establishing the "separate-but-equal" segregation principle. The Supreme Court’s conclusion can be seen above. View the full document here.
The reaction to the ruling was varied. For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Prince Edward County in particular, resisted the Supreme Court’s decision. The county closed its public schools (including the one shown above) from 1959 to 1964 to avoid desegregation.
Learn more from the Eisenhower Library
Supreme Court Order for Appearance of Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case for school desegregation. From the case file of Brown v. Board of Education. December 3, 1951.
Marshall would later become the first African American Supreme Court Justice.
More - Thurgood Marshall